The Forests Amendment (Forest Firefighters Presumptive Rights Compensation) Act 2021 (the FFPRC Act) commenced on 14 September 2022.
The FFPRC Act is modelled on the Firefighters' Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment Reform Act 2019 (FPRC Act), which provides career and volunteer firefighters engaged by Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) and Country Fire Authority (CFA) with a presumptive right to cancer compensation.
The FFPRC Act extends the presumptive right to occupational and surge forest firefighters.
What presumptive rights mean
Forest firefighters who satisfy the criteria for presumptive rights now have an entitlement for compensation under Victoria's Workers' Compensation Scheme (the scheme).
This means that if a forest firefighter who satisfies the relevant criteria is diagnosed with a specified cancer, they no longer need to prove that the cancer is directly attributable to their service as a firefighter.
The presumption applies unless it can be proven the cancer was not caused by firefighting.
How to qualify as a forest firefighter
Forest firefighters are defined as either occupational forest firefighters or surge forest firefighters.
An occupational forest firefighter is someone employed in a role where forest firefighting is a substantial portion of the role.
A surge forest firefighter is someone employed in a non-firefighting role who elects to take on fire and emergency management responsibilities as part of their department or agency’s surge response.
The presumption applies to forest firefighters engaged by Forest Fire Management Victoria.
The types of cancers covered
A list of specified cancers and their relevant qualifying service periods is available here:
How to know whether you may be eligible
This compensation applies to forest firefighters who:
- have been diagnosed since 1 June 2016 with one of 12 specified types of cancer
- have served in active firefighting roles for a specified number of years, depending on the cancer type
- are diagnosed during their service or within 10 years after they've finished their service
A partial year of service is counted as a full year of service to recognise seasonal workers. Previous service as a volunteer or career firefighter and equivalent interstate service count toward the qualifying period.
Claimants who meet all other eligibility requirements except the qualifying period can still qualify if they can demonstrate they attended an exceptional exposure event.
How your eligibility is decided
All forest firefighter claims for presumptive rights require an expert opinion from an Advisory Committee established under the legislation. The Advisory Committee includes members with forest firefighting expertise. The Advisory Committee provides non-binding advice to WorkSafe as to whether a forest firefighter:
- meets the eligibility requirements to receive the presumption
- has attended an 'exceptional exposure event' and is eligible to receive special consideration
How an 'exceptional exposure event' is determined
Where a forest firefighter does not meet the relevant qualifying period, they can apply for special consideration to assess whether they have attended an exceptional exposure event in order to receive the presumption. The FFPRC Act does not define what an exceptional exposure event is. However, the Advisory Committee will consider:
- the nature of the event
- whether there are any relevant findings from a coroner, court proceedings or official inquiry regarding an event known to have exposed firefighters to carcinogens
- relevant records, employer data or local knowledge
- any other matters prescribed by the regulations
How to make a claim
You can submit the Worker's injury claim form to the organisation that engaged you as a forest firefighter.
The organisation will then provide your completed form to its WorkSafe Agent who will review the information on your form and determine whether you meet the requirements of the presumptive legislation.
If you do meet the requirements, the Agent will refer your claim to the Advisory Committee to determine whether you have attended fires to the extent reasonably necessary to meet the requirements of the presumptive legislation.
The Advisory Committee has been established to provide the Agent with an expert opinion on your claim.
Claimants who meet all other eligibility requirements except the qualifying period can use the 'Application for special consideration under the presumptive rights compensation schemes' form to apply for special consideration.
What does the Advisory Committee look for?
The Advisory Committee will consider relevant records, employer data and local knowledge.
Make sure to include this information in your claim where possible.
You will also have the opportunity to provide further information directly to the Advisory Committee if needed.
The Advisory Committee will provide its expert opinion to the Agent within 10 days of receiving the request.
Once the Agent has received the expert opinion, they will assess your compensation claim and make a decision to accept or reject your claim.
How to lodge a claim if you were previously rejected under the existing scheme
If a forest firefighter injured on or after 1 June 2016 had a claim rejected under the existing workers’ compensation scheme, it can be re-lodged for consideration under the presumptive rights scheme.
Compensation entitlements to be paid
Forest firefighters who qualify for compensation under the presumptive rights scheme will be entitled to the relevant worker’s compensation benefits provided by WorkSafe.
Need more help?
We understand this may be a difficult or distressing time and we don't want to make things harder for you. If you have any questions about this process, please contact our Advisory Service or your Agent.
WorkSafe Advisory Service
WorkSafe's advisory service is available between 7:30am and 6:30pm Monday to Friday. If you need more support, you can also contact WorkSafe using the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) or the National Relay Service.